Simulation and Stimulation - Reprint
Thursday, 21 Dec 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
I just revisited a post from last year on the disciplines of study. It's worth another read.
** * **
In my quest for optimum output, I tread the wire between two elements which must both be optimized: time and my mind.
For example, do I go to sleep or keep working? If I go to sleep, I can do more work today. But if I keep working, will my mind continue to output thinking at a reasonable rate? I know the dangers of excessive late night work; I think I'm working hard, but late night work often goes at a slower rate. Drowsiness can be mistaken for flow.
The first great mental challenge of my life was to acknowledge the weirdness of my brain and give it enough time to complete complex tasks. Instead of sitting in front of the math problem, crying until my mind caught up, one early mentor suggested I doodle.
It was my first introduction to a basic mental technique: give yourself time to do the job. Aided by some math videos where I saw the equations performed on a board, I clung to the concept of time for years.
To this day, time management is one of the most important parts of my life. A much more complex inner equation leads to the daily allotment of time. Into it goes a set of tasks I wish to accomplish, the set of possible locations, and a sense of my mental state. Based on these variables, I choose where to go, how to get there, and what to eat.
This is because I have added a study of the mind to the concepts of basic time management. In high school, I would just sit in front of the computer, waiting for the ideas to come. They came much more slowly back then. No doubt my mind is much stronger, but I have also honed my methods.
In this, one must be very specific about the object one wishes to achieve. For example, many of my friends believe that they work best under pressure. Thus, they choose to write papers the night before. In reality, they do not work best under pressure. They work fastest under pressure. Their best work would take much, much more time to complete. This, of course, demonstrates their priorities. Something else must be much more important to them.
Among the last-nighters, there are also people who wish to do quality work, but are stuck. Like the student who writes the first reasonably-logical thesis which comes to mind, they stick with the mental disciplines which they encounter by accident. And last-night pressure is the easiest mental stimulant to discover; even many highly-motivated, highly-intelligent people stop here.
The last-night mindset is deceptive. It seems the quickest and most intense of all mental effort. It may even be highly addictive. Highly social people prefer this method, since it frees their time for other, more important things. Fortunately, when I was young I read some advice against making this a regular pattern: (Samuel Johnson's early letter to Boswell).
So I looked for other paradigms of mental discipline. And I am still looking. For their nature and scope can vary widely. Hypertext, for example, has led to an important paradigm change for me. My thoughts on the unpublished Metaphysical poets have led to further distinct changes in my mental toolbag. There are several others, but I will only give one more example:
The next mental technique which people discover is a sort of self-conditioning.
I recently saw a cartoon in which someone offered herself a cookie if she were able to write 5 more pages. By offering herself a reward, she was trying to behaviorally condition herself to write more. This was a question of motivation.
The conditioning can become much more subtle when it looks like operant conditioning. It starts out by remembering a particular good study session. Any number of factors, such as sleep, nutrition, the topic itself, or any previous work on the topic may have contributed to this outstanding study session. But our imaginary thinker remembers that he was at coffeeshop X or in seat Y when the marvelous thinking occurred. Next time he wishes to study well, he will attempt to recreate that environment. In effect, they are trying to operant condition themselves to produce work; instead of salivating at the sound of the bell, they wish to think upon command. The utmost level of their art is seen in Act I of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. When Lucky's hat is put on, he is told to "think!" And he does, until the hat is taken off.
I know a hundred people who would think themselves fortunate to be Lucky, if only so they could spend the rest of their day partying.
I am eating a cracker as I write this. For me, taste and rote muscle movement also affect my thinking. For example, I often pace.
I have put a lot of thought into how music affects thinking. And this is not only because I spend large amounts of my day around specialists in music and psychology. It's because music is just about the most common conditioner in Western life.
Now that we live in a world were recorded music is readily available, music is often used in the attempt to induce certain thoughts or emotions. Malls, movies, telepones on-hold, nightclubs, bedrooms, and even babies' rooms are all places where we carefully select music to get a particular emotional/psychological reactions from ourselves and others around us.
The principles of conditioning also apply. Satiation, etc... The effects are staggering. Some research suggests that the massive amounts of stimulation available in our developmental stages may contribute to the prevalence of ADHD. Even if this is not the case, we have been affected: One of the most decorated honors students in Elizabethtown College's class of 2005 swore he could only study textbooks while watching TV and listening to the radio. Certain elements of religious tradition, such as the lighting of candles and incense, or the sole ceremonial use of certain colors, could also be seen as a form of self-conditioning.
Few people get beyond this type of discipline toward becoming effective in what they desire (I state this in general terms, because I realize that some may wish to put their mind to other things than mere study. For example, therapists may seek to maximize empathy. Artists and writers may wish to enhance their imagination, etc.). But to stay here is naive. It leads to an ever-narrowing corner, since conditioning creates ruts which become progressively more difficult to escape. Also, one can leave the goal for the stimulus (which is what Johnson wrote about). For example, someone who studies well in coffeeshops may continue going to coffeeshops for the enjoyable experience long after its mental usefulness has passed (because you get to know the people there, because the noise grows, etc.).
Most people think of these things in a superstitious manner. But it is useful to consider out the individual properties of each thinking arrangment. A case study analysis would unnecessarily lengthen this already-long post. So I will leave that to you.
(for example, the advent of recorded music has led to the widescale use of recorded music in the daily life of religious people. If recorded religious music really had the intrinsic effect that its proponents claim, we would have this amazingly-devoud population of religious people. Is this happening? If not, why not? What is the actual, long term effect of recorded religious music in the life of your average, music-listening devotee?)
There are other paradigms of self-awareness that specialize toward the thinking work I do. I have a small trove of carefully-edited methods, as I try to develop what I have and find new ways of doing.
** * **
It would be easy to reduce people to stimulous machines, self-conditioning ourself with stimuli and our brain's response to chemical reactions in our body. One could define religion, love, philanthropy, hate, war, and creativity with these terms. But...
Although I carry out my own development in a systematic, thoughtful way that acknowledges the physical and psychological aspects of my being, I know there is a spiritual element to life. I know that the Spirit and grace of God stand large in whatever measure of success my person has achieved.
In all this, let us not forget the spiritual things.
** * **
That was all background to this thought I had in the morning: should I play videogames or not?
The answer may surprise you, but it will have to wait for another post.
The impudence of Religion
Monday, 24 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
There is something hopeful about the optimism of those who believe that a pattern of goodness can be found in the lives of most people. Generosity, love, kindness, and empathy are all human traits, after all. It has been said, most famously by Abraham Maslow, that humans primarily and fundamentally seek their survival and self interest. Sociologists will tell us the same. But if you look at the world around you, I think you will see plenty of people who place the needs of others before their own for reasons which do not entirely match a clear personal interest.
Say what you will, but I believe that there is something basic in humanity which desires justice and The Good. Many times, we are confused about how to accomplish this. But most people desire this; most people put some effort into this. And when you see things this way, to judge the world seems a bit callous and unsympathetic.
** * **
There's a problem. It's possible to use the exact same methods to arrive at the opposite conclusion.
If you look at most people's lives, you can find a pattern of mistakes as easily as a pattern of positive acts. So many times, we seek immediate pleasure/gain instead of a wise, long-term choice that benefits others. We degrade our bodies with overeating, chemical dependencies, and STDs. We smudge our personalities with little lies, with pride, and with jealousy. Does this sort of thing happen all the time in our lives? Maybe not. But if we look for patterns of consistency and find generosity, love, and kindness, we will probably also find things that we regret.
But we don't want to be bad people. After all, we are in a tough world. We struggle just to make sense of life; things sometimes happen which make our life very hard. On the pothole-riddled road of life, it's not surprising that we get a little bent. Life is a bit like a boxing match. If you're going to survive, you sometimes have to hit back.
** * **
Ok. It's possible to see a pattern of good intentions and deeds in most people's lives. It's also to see a pattern of rather regrettable things in a person's life.
Hmm. Maybe this whole "looking for patterns" isn't such a great thing after all. Because if you want to measure how good a person is, how do you do it? How do you measure? Motives? Net good? We have a hard enough time sorting out our own motives, and we can't really know what "would have happened otherwise."
What do we do then? Most people just try to make the best we can of life. Is that enough?
** * **
We live in pluralistic times, and this is a good thing. People are much less certain about what they believe. At its worst, pluralism paralyzes people and keeps them from making any decisions. But at its best, it makes us more wise; we research, consider, and weigh the issues before making a choice. We can understand complexity.
I am a pluralist in most areas because I know my limitations. I understand that I cannot fully understand. This is why I try to learn from others as much as possible; their ideas and perspectives are as valuable to me as the finest gem. And yet, there is one absolute I am not willing to equivocate: the ideal of perfection. Otherwise, how could I claim to see the existence of wrong and injustice in the world?
I don't care if there is an ideal chair somewhere in an imaginary dimension. But I know there is an ideal person. And I know that this person is most definitely not me.
The thought that there is a best choice keeps me up at night, mostly because I know I can't make it. I'm just some guy. As Shakespeare put it in "As You Like It,"
Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy:
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.[...]
All the world's a stage,
and all the men and women merely players
They have their entrances and their exits,
And one man in his time plays many parts[....],
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
How can I, a little chunk of biological material in the ecology of the universe, know what to do?
** * **
Religions often tell us that they have the answer, that they have a way to survive a destiny "sans everything." Often, it's something about being a good person or living a "righteous" life.
But when we look at the religions, it's not hard to see that they often do more harm than good. It looks like people all over, even the ones who organize and try very hard to do the right thing, can make very bad mistakes.
** * **
Christianity claims to have the answer.
This is why Christianity is so scary. The Bible doesn't talk about living a good life and trying your best. It talks about holiness. This is an entirely different concept.
What is holiness? It's something that can't be easily described in words. Here's what the prophet Isaiah said about the time he met someone who was holy...
seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
What would it be like to meet a perfect being, one who has absolute power but for whom power is not a corrupting force? What would it be like to know someone who was mocked, beaten, and killed, even though he held the lives of his accusers in the palm of his hand?
** * **
Is there something in this universe that is so pure, so amazingly perfect that the mere sight of it -- or him -- would induce this reaction?
If so, how could we survive? If this is our destiny, is not oblivion a better end?
** * **
The other part of Isaiah's story is haunting. This is what he says:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
Is it really possible that the Divine has the power to absolve, and make people holy? Christianity claims it. Do Christians believe it? Can they really live it?
Do religious people really think of the stakes in this holiness business?
** * **
Christianity is pretty impudent to assert that holiness is possible.
What if they're right?
Sunday, 23 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Last night, I had a very interesting discussion with a friend about Art. I think she's on to something.
The following flickr Photoset would not fit her definition of ideal art, but I think that you *will* find beauty in Latte Art (and Latte Art) (and latte art) (and a beary good cappucino) and Flickr's Expresso pool.
The Uncial World
Friday, 21 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Today is the day I feel small, miniscule even.
Small, because I am here, in a city with hundreds of years of history.
Small, because there is so much in life and study I do not know.
Small, because I have an ambitious honors project and very little time.
I'm small, short, weak: nothing. And yet I have this crazy instance of idiocy usually called self-confidence.
** * **
Thursday, 20 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Today, at 6.a.m., I got on a train to Philadelphia. I'm looking forward to meeting Nick Montfort, the writer of Twisty Little Passages and co-author of Implementation. Oh yeah. He was also co-editor of the MIT New Media Reader.
Good times :-)
The Mistake of Knowing
Wednesday, 19 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
I am in the middle of writing a quasi-paper about the nature of "knowing."
** * **
I am currently cleaning the shelves of the honors center, culling the stacks of donated books to make way for things that would be actually useful. We have been given a whole boatload of Freshman Comp books which outline "the one true way" for learning how to research, write, and think creatively.
** * **
This morning, I wrote a long response to Nicholas Carr's worries about the Web creating a hegemony of the amateur.
Now, looking at this pile of trash written by Ph.D. recepients, I know I don't have to worry that the Web gives us bad info sometimes. Frankly, the print world hasn't done any better.
Max Black talks about the importance of certifying ideas. We have for too long assumed that if something's printed, it's of a certain quality. That idea is an illusion; publishing is a social activity, and the market often surpresses good material. The Web doesn't bring us new problems with knowing truth. It just magnifies the challenges we have always had. The difference? The Web is young enough for us to realize the problems.
The Academic system has a similar problem: by making publication a requirement for tenure, the academic world is stamping its approval on mounds of drivel.
When I look at this pile of useless writing, I sigh and I silently resolve to not write junk, even if it means I don't get to play the academic game.
Scholarly Inquiry, 2005
Sunday, 16 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
As a technologist, I tend toward things current, edgy, and interesting. I must always struggle to pull myself toward more useful things, especially when it comes to tools. One can be so pre-occupied with process that one never accomplishes anything with the tools one evaluates.
Of course, it's not that simple. The tools you use may define how you accomplish your grand vision. They may even make the difference between success and failure.
As someone interested in hypertext, I'm also involved with the construction of new sorts of tools to help us do a better job at the grand visions we devise. It's a sacrifice one has to make, but it's a selfish one, since there's always the hope that you can someday use the tools of your dreams.
Sunday, 16 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Hospitality and charity are one of the greatest virtues. And Jason Klem has them.
Last year, I spent several days in Philadelphia. Jason Klem, who was an architecture student at PhilaU at that time, gave me a place to sleep. How cool!
I called him up today and asked, "can I crash on your floor on Thursday night?"
I hadn't talked to him in a year, although I saw his dad a few months ago (a professor of theology in Virginia). Jason is now graduated and working as an architect.
Jason didn't even hesitate. "Sure man. Just let me know."
** * **
God is good. Of all the crazy things that have gone on in my life over the last two months, the easiest of all came when I asked a guy to put me up in his home. Generosity lives.
Saturday, 15 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Last week, I was talking to a friend at a coffeeshop.
"Hey, I really liked Tinderbox. I should buy it," he said.
"Yeah. You should."
"No really. Right now."
So he licensed Eastgate's Tinderbox.
Then, today, he IMmed me.
Just a random note... I hardly yet know anything about Tinderbox, but I think I'm already dependent.
It seems to be a lot like an addictive drug that way.
it's a new way of thinking, man, and as such, I'm not surprised, since it's a powerful way of thinking.
Saturday, 15 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Over the last three months, I have faithfully listened to a marvelous audio collection of Arthur Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.
During this time, I have been struck by the masterful quality of Doyle's descriptive writing. For it is the description provided by the narrator Watson that makes these stories truly come alive. It is impossible to consider Watson to be stupid or unwitting after one closely reads the prose attributed to him. As one Sherlockian commentator notes:
The two men in the beginning of "The Sign of the Four"
are not the life-long friends as we always think of Holmes and Watson. They're roommates, pure and simple. The normal guy and that bizarro junkie whom he lives with. Watson probably had to write of Holmes's amazing crime-solving out of self-defense, just to show all the doctor's friends and acquaintances that his fellow lodger had some merits. Perhaps even to remind himself.
Just listen to the introduction of "The Sign of the Four," or "The Five Orange Pips," and you will hear what I mean about the power of Doyle's description.
It is this latter story with which I now wish to concern myself. If you listen to "The Five Orange Pips" for a few minutes (printed text), you will hear a rather remarkable phrase:
It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney.
I read this last phrase to my father.
"You have made a mistake," he said.
"Yes. You meant to say that the child cried and sobbed like the wind in the chimney. "
I looked at the text again:
the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney.
No, I had read it correctly. Then it hit me. And I was aghast. The concept of the child chimney sweep was so common, so universally-understood that Doyle used it as a metaphor to help explain the sound of the wind.
And I was reminded of Blake's poem, "The Chimney Sweeper":
A little black thing in the snow,
Crying "weep! weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"-
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.
"Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
"And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."
I am also reminded of Blakes' poem "London."
I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:
How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.
But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.
This poem is one of the most moving I have ever read. It describes the true and sorry state of humanity, the part we don't see because we are too excited about the new shiny toys we can buy and the blinding harmony of delight that lurks within the things we watch and hear.
Thursday, 13 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
I was just reading through a list of famous people who grew up in the lower-class areas of South Philadelphia. The list starts in the beginning of the 20th century. There are sculptors, boxers, a Broadway conductor, jazz musicians, and even one of the Three Stooges. Then it completely drops out. Very few famous people come from that area now. The most recent "famous" person was Vincent Scarza, who organized the "Live Aid" concert in 1985.
Why is that?
What fundamental change occurred in South Philadelphia or America for this to happen?
I have a nagging feeling that this has something to do with the GI Bill, the growing professionalization of America, the advent of television, and the lack of economic growth in South Philadelphia.
Has higher education caused such an influx of white suburban middle-class professionals that it's more difficult for ethnic urban communities to become something? Is this part of the downside of the creative class?
I'm told that before a degree was required for journalism, any paper boy selling newspapers on the street could rise to become a top reporter, and then maybe a novelist. Have we completely destroyed this natural opportunity for advancement by our insistence on higher education?
Ideas? Let me know what you think.
Thursday, 13 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Well, I'm finally out of the gate and running on my academic work for the semester. Good times.
God is good, and people are kind. I have a loaner ibook until the new one arrives from Apple! My college may be small, be people are so nice.
The open road of ideas, and I'm ready to rumble. I am just a few administrative chores away from shifting into full gear for my thesis and other academic study. Soundtrack? The Gentlemen of St. John's.
I may be celebrating the day with focus and work, but my Jewish friends are fasting, praying, and refraining from work. Today is Yom Kippur.
This morning, I get together with a friend for a time of study and prayer. I think I'll suggest we take a look at some excerpts from the Torah today.
Wednesday, 12 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
What do Bees know that we don't?
Today, as I walked through the city on my way to get some Pounds Sterling, I passed an elderly woman who struggled with her dog in the rain. There was no way I could help her, but when I saw her haggard face, I wanted to do something.
As I passed, I gave her a big smile and a nod.
A warm expression grew on her wrinkled face like moisture spreading through a paper towel. The world was a good place again, and she was happy.
Even in the toughest circumstances, the Grace of God and the power of goodness are hard to beat.
Update, Oct 13:
My British friend/colleague Clare Hooper
writes a similar anecdote:
"I just passed some workers from the Council, painting over some graffiti; I paused to remark "You're doing great work, there!", with a big smile, and had a brief but lovely exchange with them. It all boils down to human contact, no?"
Praise is an important part of life most people forget. Most people in the States grumble about people involved in public works. They ignore people who do the cleaning. But these are the people who make everything possible. In that regard, they are more important than the politicians, who just bicker about decisions. Grumble about the politicians, if you will. But save some praise for the workers of this world.
Monday, 10 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
If you have sent me an email, called, or gotten married in the last few weeks, don't worry. I haven't forgotten you. However, an increased volume of email has recently coincided with a mountain of deadline work. I'll get to you.
Also, my iBook logic board just died for the 5th time. I have always been rather happy with the promptness of Apple's support. But frankly, I'm pretty close to my limit at this point. Just last week, I joked with a friend, "It's been six months. My logic board should die soon." Two days later, I saw the screen flicker. I knew what was happening. The screen blanked. The next time I started the laptop, I knew I only had a few minutes. Quickly SSH-ing data to the machine, I was able to backup all my recent files. After a sent the last SSH command, it died.
Update, Oct 11: When I called Apple tonight, they offered me a new ibook before I even had a chance to ask. Even in this, they have been *very* professional.
Update, October 12: If you think of me, say a prayer. I'm no longer running on fumes. No energy. Just momentum: and the will. But God's grace is good, and I have the will to carry on.
School Supplies and a Bronze Star Medal
Friday, 7 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
I heard about it in a simple press release.
ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — Elizabethtown College’s Center for Global Citizenship is collecting school supplies for children in the Iraqi villages of Zahko and Ibraham Kaleel. There is an immediate need for writing instruments and paper, but all supplies will be accepted, including pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, colored pencils, markers, crayons, pens, chalk, notebooks, paper, construction paper and coloring books.
Student organizations rushed to put together boxes of material. It was exciting to see the students of a college with pacifist origins working with the U.S. military to supply the needs of Iraqi children.
Our contact in Iraq was SGM Donna Ring, 917th CSG, who was stationed at FOB Endurance. Last spring, she stopped briefly at the college to collect the supplies.
But I'm not telling you the whole story. This isn't the first time I've heard of SGM Ring. Her husband was my first boss. For the last few years, I have received constant emails from him about her activities with the 917th CSG, a vehicle-repair support unit sometimes called "The Triple-A of the Northwest."
SGM Ring was made a Redeployment NCO, which involved work with units going home and units transitioning into service in Iraq. But she didn't stop caring for the Iraqi people. As her husband Dan described in an email...
Many soldiers, including Donna, are trying their best to help the people in the towns that are in need. They contact people and organizations here who send over supplies and equipment to be taken to the towns and schools. There is a very old woman in one of the towns who's hands are so dry and cracked she can't move them. The soldiers have tried every kind of hand cream to help her and found that corn huskers works. So Donna asked if I could find some and send it to her. I sent her six bottles.
A few days ago, SGM Donna Ring received a Bronze Star Medal. Dan wrote me an email about it.
I would like to let all of you know that Donna will be receiving a very special award. Her unit has recommended her for the bronze star for the service she has performed while on active duty in Iraq. I can't begin to say how proud we are of her and look forward to seeing the medal pinned on her. Now all of you may know Donna is very modest and will most likely give me heck for telling everyone about this award. Ha. I feel she deserves some attention for the support she has given to her unit and the help she has given to the Iraqi people.
Then, the next day, I received one more email.
The flight went well for us and we made the ceremony on time in Kansas. It was so exciting to see the three bus loads of soldiers pull up. We are all waving flags and screaming and they are waving from their windows.
I ran to my wife's bus and met her at the doors and we jumped in each others arms. It was a feeling that is hard to describe, one I hope you enjoy someday also.
There was a military band playing and very old Vets who welcomed and shook their hands as they walked into the VFW for the event. I was so proud to see the COL. pin the Bronze Star on my wife, the soldiers yelled and clapped saying the SGM Ring was the best. How do you top that feeling?
Update, Oct 10: Dan described his wife's role in more detail in a further email:
They were a combat unit that supported the troops out in the combat zones, outside the wire so to speak. Donna's job was to help manage the command center that stayed in touch with the troops as they looked for insurgents and IED's and got the soldiers help or supplies as needed. As roadside bombs were found, IED's, they wold radio back for engineers to come and explode them. If there were injuries or attacks, help was sent. She would handle multiple tasks for long hours at a time helping the soldiers as they did their job. Also, all the supplies from Turkey she would arrange escorts for their safety to the base, sometimes as many as 80 to 100 trucks at a time. This was just part of the many things she did plus all the humanitarian missions for the children, school supplies, and medial supplies for the Iraqidoctor serving the 17 villagesaround their base.
More on the Author Function
Tuesday, 4 Oct 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Mark Bernstein wonders about Eric Raymond's seeming meltdown and what it means for bloggers.
Eric was one of the most influential people in computing during the 90s. As the chronicler of Hacker culture, he compiled the New Hacker's Dictionary. Eric was one of the early champions of Open Source software. He has been an inspiration, a hero in some ways, in my life.
He hast lost much of his following in the geek sector due to his fiercely-libertarian philosophy and his tendency to shoot from the hip when talking about issues. Oddly, these traits were specifically what endeared Eric to the tech crowd.
What I think about Eric...
My European friends and professors tell me that Americans make ideas too personal. Most of us don't take criticism well. We don't like to discuss, and if someone disagrees, we feel hurt. In Europe, I am told, opponents in a hot argument will laugh together over a beer that evening.
- Eric really has changed. Since when does a libertarian support international war? Honestly; the ideological jockeying of the last five years has convinced me that only a few people think beyond the box of their political affiliations toward true conviction in political ideology. Like authors who write to sell books, many people form highly-varying political opinions that waver on current events, political alignments, and social groups.
So yeah, Foucault was right. The author function defines our experience. Readers use the author function to guess quality levels before reading. Authors become a brand. Thus, if you dislike Eric's political writings, you may be less willing to listen to his ideas on software. If Black & Decker makes a great coffeemakers, you might be willing to purchase a sub-standard carpet vacuum.
** * **
So, what should we readers do? This is a huge question. After all, we have to filter what we read. The author function isn't perfect, but it's helpful. And we can expect much more of it, if weak-tie social group biased searching becomes prevalent. But we should also try to take every individual work as a unique unit. Take the text for what it says. Take what is useful. Ignore what is not. In the information age, do we have time to be indignant, unless we have a specific purpose (ie, debunking, etc)?
As authors, what do we do? Mark wonders...
But here's a hazard and a warning that all bloggers -- especially those of us who have a significant audience -- worry about on cold winter nights. We don't talk about it much. We don't have panels on it at Webzine or Blogtalk, we don't spend sessions discussing it at Blogwalk. It's an uninvited guest, always hovering at the table.
What will happen if we write something that is really, deeply, wrong? And write it over and over again? How will we mend things, afterward? Can they be mended?
This is an insightful question.
At first glance, the answer is simple: Usually, people who continually write something that is deeply wrong believe that they are right. So the question can be reframed as, "What will happen if we consistently believe something that others feel is deeply wrong?" The simple answer is: Be honest, stand up, stick to your guns. Principle is more important than audience.
But the real answer is more complex, especially on blogs, where the information organization is not based on topics, but is rather centered in authors.
Mark's own writing rubs me the wrong way sometimes. For example, he sometimes speaks against certain religious groups. This post in particular annoyed me, since I attend a Baptist church. If you look at the post, you'll notice that Mark was quick to clarify his statement. He is one of the last people I would expect to be deeply wrong over a long period of time.
The blogosphere fosters discussion. It is thus the medium through which a single author is least likely to be deeply wrong for a long time.
How will we mend things, afterward? Can they be mended?
I think Mark is thinking deeper than his reputation or number of hits. He's worried that if he says something deeply wrong, people will believe him.
I think this is even harder to mend than audience respect.
These are the questions every public person must ask. I have recently been asking the question in regards to my physical life. I am a senior in college, and I have some measure of success in my academic efforts. For my first year of college, only a few even bothered to notice me; I could easily get my work done. Now, many people wish to speak with me, be with me, get advice from me. Since I am more popular, I could now easily abandon the core personal principles which happened to lead to a measure of respect on my small campus.
It freaks me out to think that other people are looking at me as an example in life. And sometimes, when I break my routine to participate in a social event, I worry about it. I don't want to become the stereotypical self-marketer who has little substance. I want my work, my character, and my generosity to speak for themselves. You can hang all the dinners and events. That's the hacker in me speaking.
At the same time, I try to use my standing as a tool to help others. By doing so, I make the potential effects of my mistakes much greater.
If I eventually do or say something that people consider deeply wrong, I will lose that respect. This is how the world works. Once you hurt someone, it takes a long time to regain the respect of just one person. The only way to regain a similar standing is to find a new audience. It's probably the same in the blogosphere.
Annotating your ideas can be hard in a web with one-way links, especially if you don't have write access to your old writings. But mending the harmful effect of your ideas is more difficult.
Samuel Beckett wrote, "Habit is the great deadener." A man once decided to live by that statement.
"I think I will remove all habit from my life," he said, and after testing the thick, coarse rope, kicked away the chair.
As a codicil to this, a man once said, "To speak is a grave danger. People will not respond to what you say, and you will be distraught. But yet more dangerous is this: that someone might listen to you, and do what you say."
A second man thought to himself, "You are right," and said nothing.
My brother, who has been called to be a pastor, wonders about this a lot. Honestly, it really freaks him out. How does he get up in the morning?
- He has confidence in the grace of God
- He knows he has been called
- More than anyone I know, he bases his ideas in the scriptures.
- Humility, humility, humility. It's hard to be humble when you're a teacher.